What are the seven seals, seven trumpets, seven signs and seven bowls of Revelation?
The book of Revelation is outlined with a sequence of four sets of symbols: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven signs and seven bowls. Each symbol is used to describe God’s judgment upon sinful, Christ rejecting men and women of the earth. Each judgment is progressively worse and culminates in the battle of Armageddon, the defeat of the world’s armies.
Each set of judgments are separated by a scene that occurs in heaven. The scenes in heaven describe God’s presentation of the gospel to the peoples of the earth and warning of eternal judgment. There are also three woes (Revelation 8:13; 9:12; 11:14; 18:10, 16, 19). The first two woes describe progressively worse demonic activity; the third woe, which is repeated three times, is about the battle of Armageddon. The chart below illustrates the sequence of these events in the book of Revelation.
The Seven Seals
The Seven Seals are the first set of judgments. The seals provide an overview of the terrors that will occur in the Tribulation period. The description of the Tribulation period begins in chapter 6 and ends in chapter 19. The first six seals are described in Revelation 6:1-17. The first seal describes peace which corresponds to the first 3.5 years of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). The remaining seals describe the general punishments that will occur during the last part of the tribulation. The seventh seal is mentioned in Revelation 8:1, but it telescopes into the seven trumpets.
First Scene in Heaven
The first scene in the description of the tribulation period occurs in Revelation 7:1-17. In this scene we encounter the 144,000 witnesses (Revelation 7:4-8) and the tribulation martyrs (Revelation 7:9-17). This interlude focuses on the spread of the gospel during the Tribulation and the death of Tribulation saints.
The Seven Trumpets
The seventh seal telescopes into the Seven Trumpets. The first six trumpets occur in Revelation 8:1-9:21. The first four trumpets describe a series of specific judgments on the earth and the last two trumpets describe the release of demonic forces upon the earth.
The First Woe
The first woe occurs in Revelation 8:13. The verse reads,
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” Revelation 8:13 (NASB)
Revelation 9:12 tells us that the first woe is past. A review of Revelation 9:1-11 reveals that demonic forces were released from the bottomless pit (Luke 8:31; 1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) between Revelation 8:13 and Revelation 9:12. That is, the woe was about increased demonic activity upon the earth. The next “woe” is finished in Revelation 11:14. The final one occurs at the time of the battle of Armageddon.
The Second Scene in Heaven
The second scene in the description of the Tribulation occurs in Revelation 10:1-11:14. This scene includes a “strong angel” which is a giant angel (Revelation 10:1-11). During this break in the description of the Tribulation period, two witnesses appear (Revelation 11:1-13). Their purpose is to serve as witnesses; however, we are not told what they will communicate. This scene focuses on the spread of the gospel and the ministry of the two witnesses.
The Second Woe
The second woe is referenced in Revelation 11:14 and occurs at the end of the second scene. The verse reads,
The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Revelation 11:14 (NASB)
This second woe refers to the massive demonic activity described in Revelation 9:13-21.
The Seven Signs
The seventh trumpet occurs in Revelation 11:15 and telescopes into seven signs. It is commonly believed that the seven trumpets telescope into the seven bowls, but a close examination of Revelation reveals that a sequence of seven signs follows the trumpets. Beginning in Revelation 12:1, the first sign is given to us.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Revelation 12:1-2 (NASB)
The second sign is a dragon in Revelation 12:3,
Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. Revelation 12:3 (NASB)
The third sign is a male child in Revelation 12:5-6. The fourth sign is Michael the archangel (Revelation 12:7-17). The fifth sign is the antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10) and the sixth sign is the false prophet in Revelation 13:11-18).
The Third Scene in Heaven
The third scene occurs in Revelation 14:1-20. This scene includes another glimpse of the 144,000 witnesses (Revelation 14:1-5), an angel presenting the gospel (Revelation 14:6-13) and looking ahead to the final judgment upon the nations of the world, which is called the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 14:14-20).
The Seven Bowls
The seventh sign telescopes into the seven bowls (Revelation 15:1, 7). The first six bowls occur in Revelation 15:1-19:21. They describe horrible plagues that occur on the planet, the universe, animals and human life. The final bowl is the battle of Armageddon.
The Third Woe
The third woe is repeated three times in Revelation 18:10, 16 and 19. Revelation 18 describes the final aftermath that will occur on the earth which is the battle at Armageddon. Revelation 19 describes the second coming of Christ and a summary of the battle at Armageddon. The armies of the world will be defeated (Revelation 19:17-19), the antichrist and false prophet will be defeated (Revelation 19:20-21) and Satan and the demons will be put into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). The seven bowls and the third woe conclude the description of the Tribulation period in the book of Revelation(Revelation 6:1-19:19).
It is important to realize that throughout the tribulation period while God calls men and women to repent of their sins, the people will respond with anger against God rather than repentance (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9-11).
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts. Revelation 9:20-21 (NASB)
Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. Revelation 16:9-11 (NASB)
Yet, some individuals will understand that they are sinners who have rejected God and that God’s judgment is deserved. They will respond to God’s call to repent and believe in Christ (Revelation 7:4-8). Sadly, most of the believers will die during the tribulation as martyrs.
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. Revelation 6:9-11 (NASB)
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10 (NASB)
In the midst of judgment God will be calling men and women to repent and be saved. What about you? Have you become a believer in Jesus Christ? If you would like to do so, visit “Searching For God.”
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